CINCINNATI -- Giving up four home runs in a game, including three consecutive shots, shouldn't be seen as a sign of progress. But that's the way things have been going for Mike Minor in the past month.
Minor allowed four solo homers as his struggles on the mound continued, and the Braves' bats were held in check for a third straight game as Cincinnati beat Atlanta, 4-1, in the opener of a four-game series at Great American Ball Park on Monday.
The four runs allowed by Minor in six innings were the fewest he's given up since getting a no-decision in a 4-3 win in Los Angeles on April 24, but he has now served up multiple homers in four of his past five starts.
"All of the pitches were up, and that's what they did, hit home runs," said Minor, who dropped to 2-4 on the season. "If I keep the ball down, then those balls aren't hit as well, but they are good hitters and they did what they're supposed to do."
Minor had allowed 27 runs -- all earned -- in his previous four starts, but he kept the Braves within striking distance Monday night through his six innings of work.
The 24-year-old left-hander stranded five baserunners in the first two innings, including the bases loaded in the second. Starting at third base for an injured Chipper Jones, Juan Francisco booted a ground ball from Reds starter Mike Leake to extend the frame after Minor had retired the first two batters. Zack Cozart singled to left field, and Drew Stubbs drew a walk to load the bases for Joey Votto. But Minor got Votto to fly out to left field on a full count.
The turning point of the game occurred in the fourth inning, when Leake, Cozart and Stubbs -- who also homered in the first -- went back-to-back-to-back off Minor.
Minor and Leake know each other from their days in college and were taken on consecutive picks in the first round of the June 2009 First-Year Player Draft -- the Braves chose Minor at No. 7 overall out of Vanderbilt while Cincinnati took Leake with the No. 8 pick out of Arizona State. The home run was also the first of Leake's career.
"I'm pretty happy about that one. I'm sure it was going to come eventually, but it was nice," said Leake, who also won his first game of the season. "Nice to hit it against somebody that I knew, too. I started a trend, I guess. It was nice to see back-to-back-to-back."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sent Minor back out to the mound for the fifth and sixth innings. Minor retired the final seven batters he faced before he was lifted in the seventh. Livan Hernandez and Kris Medlen each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of Minor.
"A good teaching moment," said Gonzalez. "He gave up four solo homers, and I thought the kid pitched OK. It was a good chance for him to go out there and just hang around. I thought he did better in the fifth and sixth innings. His breaking ball had more depth to it."
Atlanta's offense offered Minor no help. The Braves managed just two hits and four baserunners over eight innings against Leake, who entered the game 0-5 with a 6.21 ERA. One of those hits was a home run by Francisco with two outs in the second inning, tying the game at 1.
Leake retired 14 consecutive batters after Francisco's home run. That streak ended with a double by Dan Uggla in the seventh inning, but the Braves left him stranded at third base. The two hits were a season low for the Braves, who have scored just five runs in their past three games combined despite ranking fourth in the Major Leagues in runs.
"[Leake] was keeping everything down. He was making his pitches tonight, he was mixing it up and it looked like he had pretty good control," said Uggla. "[Minor] battled. He had that one inning where he gave up three solo bombs, but it was still 4-1, and we were still in it. We just couldn't get anything going."
Uggla and catcher Brian McCann walked with two outs in the ninth inning to bring Jason Heyward to the plate as the potential tying run, but Heyward flied out to right field to end the game.
"The last at-bat, I was looking for strikes, looking for a pitch to hit to keep the game going. Whatever it would take to keep the game going," said Heyward. "We'll come back tomorrow and battle again. Mike had a single rough inning, but he kept us in the ballgame. We only lost, 4-1, and we had an opportunity to win the game right there. That's all we can ask for any game."
Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.